Despite living in Italy since August, this past weekend was the first time I had actually traveled in country. From an obsession with anything near the Baltic Sea and a desire to get a touch of any Slavic language, I didn’t feel the urge to explore. Nevertheless, in January I booked a ticket for Pisa. This was supposed to be for a conference and with the best intentions that’s what I had planned. For that matter, my time actually exploring Pisa was going to be limited to a few hours at best.
Fast forward several months and Pisa turned out quite differently than expected. To begin, I was mentally exhausted from work and physically my body was revolting from months of marathon training. Not knowing what to expect, I only printed out a map and the 3.5 mile route to my hotel.
Like Brindisi, the locals in Pisa don’t feel the need to label every street or road. This made my map virtually useless with the exception of the locations of the train station and the river Arno(?). I didn’t care though due to the setting sun, the lush green trees and grass, and the clean smell to the air.
While I had never been to the city before, the looming mountains in the distance and the sight of the river brought me back to growing up in New Hampshire. I walked with a purpose towards my hotel, zigzagging in what I considered the general direction. I knew the hotel would be west of the leaning tower and that would have to be enough to make my way.
More walking ensued and I stumbled across Galileo, a statue at least, pointing up to the moon above. Paying my respects, I took a right along a busy intersection, jaywalking after a police car rumbled past. I laughed at my carelessness, but after months in Brindisi, I knew the police didn’t care about me. I continued to walk, into a tunnel, across a railroad track, and then I spotted the road for my hotel.
The sidewalks were gone, replaced by overgrown weeds and grass. I picked up my pace and ran against the oncoming traffic. I could sense I was close, not to mention I was quite hungry. Then without expecting anything special, I was pleasantly surprised.
Not only did I find my hotel, but across the street was this majestic field with no structures to speak of. In the distance, on the other end of the field, I spotted the leaning tower and the mountains.
All I could do was smile. The tower of Pisa begun in 1173 and completed in 1372 was there for me to enjoy. There were no crowds or buildings to impede this moment. I felt part of the tower’s history. That night as I dined, looking out onto the tower, I decided the tower became part of my journey too.
The rest of my time in Pisa went fast, as expected, for any weekend trip. On Saturday, I played tourist and spent most of my time hiking the countryside, to the west of the tower, far away from the fray of locals and travelers alike.
As Sunday came, before catching my flight, I made it a point to visit the tower in person for a second time. With the clouds and rain gone, the crowds arrived and the insanity of posing for pictures ensued. I didn’t stay long. No I simply gave a wave to an old friend, one I had gotten to know in my history books over the last 30-something years. I’m sure the sight of the tower will stay far longer than any postcard, picture, or story and for that I’m grateful.